We Hear: Chrysler Steers Project From BBDO

By Matt Van Hoven Comment


Right up front you should know AdAge’s Rupal Parekh had a version of this story up first, but that isn’t to say we didn’t know about it. In brief, BBDO may have lost a Chrysler project. What we happen to know that our fine trade-colleagues don’t (or wouldn’t publish) is where the “project” is headed. The answer may surprise you, because an Omnicom agency is not likely to win the business. And well, BBDO in particular shouldn’t mind that (despite the total kick in the balls they’re suffering right now, publicly). Where to begin…

No matter how this story plays out it’s important to remember a lesson from journalist/author Chuck Klosterman, who notes that the angle of a news story depends wholly on whoever calls the writer back first. That said, let us remind you (and ourselves) that internal politics, personal relationships and the drama of separation will draw this story in every direction. And the truth is likely to exist only in the boardroom where decisions about this project are made. What we’ve put together for you is a snapshot of what we’ve learned over the last year, and some basic thoughts about what it all means.

99 Problems, and an Agency
Chrysler has a number of problems: the company is dealing with bankruptcy, Cash for Clunkers is over, recent advertising has been less than memorable and the brand has all but lost touch. Harsh? The only car that’s worth looking at is the Challenger, a rejuvenated muscle-car-era vehicle that does nothing for that whole environmental sustainability thing the kids are in to. And let’s not forget Peter Arnell’s golf cart idea was like, well on its way before the bankruptcy.

From what we’ve heard, BBDO’s pitch for the Q4 creative-only project was more of the same. One source mentioned something about a certain animated character doing a dance, but that’s less than a fair assessment. From what we hear they didn’t come up with anything to write home about.

The Good Times
And that brings us to the reason that BBDO might be upset by their client’s attitude. The agency has cut staff, weathered $58 million in late bills, required employees of the Detroit office take two-week unpaid vacations. And that’s just the stuff they’ve done as a result of Chrysler’s woes.

Let’s not forget that Atmosphere was absorbed by Proximity, BBDO Atlanta cut staff by 10% due to reduced client needs, and Starbucks. Don’t even get us started there.

Change is Usually for the Better
The message to take away is that anytime you have a major corporation vying for a big change, as Fiat undoubtedly is, the agency would have to part water to keep the account. Now is the time for Fiat to reposition the Chrysler brand (name an agency that doesn’t need the work). Let’s not forget the consumers, who are in need of communications solutions that make sense.

In addition to those factors, there’s one point that BBDO could and should take action on: the automaker’s disloyalty. BBDO would do well to fire Chrysler and cut their losses. Aside from saving face that would allow them to focus on winning an account that needs an agency like BBDO. Enter Volkswagen.

Clean Slate
VW and Crispin parted ways. All we know for sure is that CP+B doesn’t do the review thing, which leaves one of the hottest foreign car brands for the taking. Though BBDO has VW in Brazil, their relationship with Chrysler bars them from taking the US business. That aside, it’s fair to say that if BBDO somehow won the VW account their reputation would get a shot in the arm, temporarily. And it might be a good fit for VW, too.

Client Needs

Volkswagen wants to do a big end-of-the-year push, we’ve heard. They have a few new cars to introduce and need an agency with the reach to get their products in front of drivers. As the “Apple” of the car world (our interpretation), the brand doesn’t really have to work hard to make sales, just say enough to prick the ears of cash-holding consumers. This year, BBDO won the Network of the Year award at Cannes for the third year in a row. And despite how anyone reading this may perceive the importance of that fact, it’s a strong selling point for a client who wants that kind of service.

VW’s advertising background leads us to believe any creative team would salivate at a chance to pitch. BBDO should get some teams together (note: and don’t make it an internal competition) and go for it.

The Likely Outcome
Hopefully, BBDO is thinking about maintaining a little dignity, but more likely key players are vying to save the Chrysler business while creatives and planners frantically look to reinvent their approach, feeling like whatever they do will be futile. And that brings us to the competition, whoever that is, and the pitch that wins the project. Independent of all the information we’ve presented you with, it’s unimportant (We’ve heard Fiat has a habit of handing off projects to agencies outside their roster as any smart company does). But when put in front of what you’ve read here, any lost business looks like another scoop of dirt on the coffin for BBDO.

This isn’t to say BBDO has lost the project or that they’re definitely going to lose the account. But looking back over the last few months it is acceptable to question the relationship’s strength. For the sake of the thousands of you in other agencies who are facing the same or similar realities, we hope to see BBDO rebound in a way respective of their history and the people who fill desks, every day.

In a few days we’ll be able to tell you more about the agency we hear is leading in the pitch for Chrysler. It won’t be groundbreaking news, but you will want to pay attention. Any time there’s a shift in big business, the rest of the industry does well to pay attention. If nothing else, it makes for a good Sunday read.

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